Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed by: Brian Gibson
Written by: Michael Grais & Mark Victor
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Oliver Robins, Zelda Rubinstein, Will Sampson, Julian Beck & Geraldine Fitzgerald
1982’s POLTERGEIST holds a special place in my heart, as well as hearts of many kids who grew up on films that didn’t use CGI or music stingers to signal scares. While the original POLTERGEIST does go into wild and crazy territory (especially in the final 20 minutes), the build up makes the pay off genuinely terrifying. It’s a haunted house movie that does show the ghosts, but it doesn’t show all of its cards in the beginning. That scary spectacle may seem cheesy to some of the newer generations (hence the unnecessary remake coming next summer), but it delivered on being a classic ghost story with modern scares. Where there’s money, there’s sequels. This can be said of horror movies more than any other genre. POLTERGEIST II is just as underwhelming, disappointing, and nowhere near the mark of the original as you can imagine. Even as a stand-alone film, POLTERGEIST II is bad…really bad.
The Freeling family have moved into Diane’s mother’s home. A year has passed since the events of the previous film (which most notably included their house imploding in on itself) and Steven is having a hard time getting financially back on his feet. When Diane’s mother dies, evil spirits that haunted the Freelings’ previous home return to terrorize the family. As opposed to just Carol Anne (the daughter who was stuck in the invisible world for most of the first film) being a target, the entire Freeling family tries to survive ever-imposing supernatural forces. With the help of a Native American magic man and returning psychic Tangina, the family must try to survive round two with these ghosts.
Credit where credit is due, the family dynamic between the Freelings remains mostly intact. This is all in spite of Dominique Dunne’s absence (who was sadly killed after the first film) as the teenage daughter. The character of Carol Anne can be a little overly cutesy at points in the film, but I believed that the main performers were a real family. That aspect worked well in this second outing. In terms of actual scares, POLTERGEIST II is more over-the-top and less frightening. The best creepy moments feature the late Julian Beck playing a sinister reverend stalking Carol Anne. The problem with his inclusion is that it adds an unneeded plot point on what was a relatively simple story. The first film had ghosts, that was enough. The second film incorporates an unneeded complicated subplot that serves only as an excuse for more craziness to happen. To make things even more frustrating, quick snippets of POLTERGEIST are inserted as flashbacks and only serve to remind how much better that movie was.
As if the addition of a creepy preacher and focus on a silly plot-thread weren’t enough, this sequel feels the need to incorporate a Native American medicine man for no discernible reason at all. The late Will Sampson isn’t bad as the character, but the material he’s given to work with is so silly that it’s laughable. The ghostly actions are also far more ridiculous this time around. While the first film had a guy peeling his face off and the scariest clown doll in the whole wide world, POLTERGEIST II resorts to braces growing out of a kid’s mouth (as dumb as it sounds) and a humanoid parasitic thing that feels like it’s from a Cronenberg movie (not a ghost story). Early signs that this continuation was off to rocky start come in the form of a cheap nightmare jump-scare (something the first movie never resorted to) and a scene with a bunch of talking toys surrounding Carol Anne (also mighty stupid).
POLTERGEIST II has almost every negative quality you should expect from a cash grab sequel to one of the best horror films from the 1980’s. The dynamic between the main characters still works and Reverend Kane himself is unnerving, but every single scare or plot point falls flat. Production seems like it was a mess to begin with as interesting scenes were shot but never included (even more featuring the Reverend pictured above) and this was originally going to be in 3D. It’s that kind of jumbled attempt at scaring the cash out of moviegoers. If you love or like POLTERGIEST, then avoid POLTERGEIST II at every opportunity possible.